Super Bowl odds: Why fading Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs is the right play
The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs will take the field Sunday to determine this year's Super Bowl champion. The Eagles are slight 1.5-point favorites despite both teams representing their conferences as the No. 1 seed while holding identical 16-3 records. I enjoy all the hoopla of Super Bowl week as much as anyone, but it's time to handicap the game.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5)
It's no surprise to see the Chiefs here, but there is certainly a population of the public still wondering how Philadelphia crashed this party. The Chiefs are the more proven commodity. Having the most talented player on Earth quarterback your team certainly helps ease some of the doubts. Philadelphia, on the other hand, will spend this week answering questions about the strength of schedule and injury luck. Are they warranted? Absolutely. Will it make an ounce of difference once the teams take the field? Not in the least.
The reality is the Eagles paved their way to promised land behind a powerful offensive line and a relentless defense. If you go down the roster, pound for pound, few will argue the Eagles are the better team. Can Patrick Mahomes be the great equalizer? The betting market has disagreed so far, and here is why I do as well.
Philadelphia's advantage in the trenches will be the story of Super Bowl LVII. The Eagles have a historically good rushing attack engineered by a dual-threat quarterback and anchored by an offensive line that ranks in the top three for both run-blocking and pass protection. In addition, four of the Eagles' offensive linemen are ranked in the top 10 by PFF. Landon Dickerson, the sole player outside the top 10, ranks 16th of 78 guards and was a first-selection Pro Bowler. The Eagles plowed their way to 148 rushing yards and four TDs against the 49ers defense, and they are likely to get much more against the Chiefs. Here are a few stats that amplify the challenge in the trenches Kansas City's defensive line will face.
KC ranks 21st defensively in Adjusted Line Yards and 30th at contacting running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage.
PHI averages 6.7 yards per rush with Miles Sanders when opposing defenses fail to make contact at or behind the line of scrimmage.
KC ranks 22nd in rush EPA allowed.
PHI averaged 213 yards rushing in seven games versus teams with run defenses ranking 22nd or below.
KC allowed 7 yards per rush to Jacksonville's running backs in the divisional round.
It's hard to see how Kansas City's defense doesn't get pushed around, especially considering they have yet to face an offense like the Eagles. Per Clevanalytics, the Chiefs had the league's easiest schedule of opposing rushing offenses based on opponent EPA and have yet to play a team ranked in the top 13. That's about to change in a big way Sunday, making me very confident in the Eagles' ability to score points, control the tempo and keep Patrick Mahomes on the sidelines.
When he is on the field, Patrick Mahomes is a problem for any defense. I'm not going to pretend the Eagles will shut down the Chiefs, regardless of how good the metrics look. You can be No. 1 in pass DVOA and lead the NFL in sacks, but it's still Patrick Mahomes on the other side. However, if we have learned anything from past Super Bowls, Patrick Mahomes is beatable with a relentless pass rush. Mahomes' passer rating plummeted to 64.2 in his two Super Bowl appearances, a massive dip from his career (106.1) and playoff passer rating (115.5). Mahomes will see more pressure in this game than he has faced all season.
Much like the offensive line, the depth of the Eagles' pass rush will be a significant factor in this game. While the interior is solid, the Chiefs are vulnerable at both tackles, particularly the right side, where Mahomes likes to scramble. With pressure coming from the outside, healthy ankle or not, Mahomes' escape routes will get caved in quickly, courtesy of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. That's partly why the two defensive tackles combined for 20 sacks this season.
Andy Reid's screen game will work early, and Mahomes will make some magic, but ultimately Haason Reddick and the Eagles' relentless pass rush will cause enough chaos and force enough negative plays to kill drives. Philadelphia controlling the clock on the other side will keep its pass rush fresh and force the Chiefs' offense to play close-to-perfect football.
Considering the Eagles are third-best at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and the Chiefs' defense is third-worst at preventing them, Mahomes will have to answer multiple long-sustaining drives with touchdowns. The pressure could easily lead to Mahomes doing too much and adding to his 12 interceptions on the season. That's another critical area where Philadelphia holds a distinct advantage. The Chiefs do not have a positive turnover differential on the season, an area where the Eagles are +12.
Can Patrick Mahomes overcome all these disadvantages? I have seen him do the unimaginable too many times to say he can't, but as a bettor who lives by probabilities, it's not a good bet. This Chiefs team has failed to reach market expectations more often than not this year (7-11-1 ATS), and I have seen too many great offenses come up short in the Super Bowl because they got dominated up front. It's likely the deciding factor is Philadelphia's ability to control the game through the trenches. My money is on Philadelphia -1.5. Let's say 28-20 for the final score.
Stats provided by pff, clevanalytics, teamrankings, rbsdm, sharpfootball, and footballoutsiders.com